He Told Me To Slap Him Out of It — But Not Too Hard Or He’ll Be More Inclined To Hit Me Back
I can’t remember exactly when or how it started, but it must have started with the red flags. I can’t even remember what most of those were. Even before all this time passed — more than six years now — I think I blocked a lot of it from my memory. (Nowadays, as a writer, I wish that wasn’t the case. I wish I’d written all of it down.)
I was 16 years old and a junior in high school at the onset of our relationship. We’d been “talking” for a lot of the summer, and he officially asked me out on the second day of school. It was August 24, a Tuesday. He was my first real boyfriend, and our relationship lasted nearly two and a half years.
I’d been warned about physical abuse, but not about the emotional or psychological kind. I was naïve. I didn’t know what to look for, and I don’t think I entirely understood what I was experiencing. By the time I realized it — if I really realized it at all during that time — I was so deeply entrenched.
The red flags didn’t just exist toward the beginning, and I know because that one — “Slap me out of it, but not too hard or I’ll be more inclined to hit you back” — occurred close to the end of my senior year. I don’t know how I missed that one. Maybe I didn’t really believe that he would ever hit me; to his credit, he never did. But I often thought it wouldn’t surprise me if it escalated there.
What he did do was pressure me into sexual activities that I wasn’t comfortable with or ready for. Even when I was as hormonal as he was, there were things I did not want to do. Intercourse was the biggest one of those, and he must have known that because I told him. Still, I found myself bargaining: “Not that, but you can do this” in order to preserve my virginity because I was so terrified of becoming pregnant, and I wasn’t on birth control. And when I eventually did go on it, that was the one thing I consistently lied to him about — because I was scared that he would pressure me more if he knew I’d taken precautions.
I should never have felt like I had to compromise myself that way. “No” should’ve meant “no” and once should’ve been the only time I had to say it.
But once wasn’t the only time I had to say it. I didn’t grasp until several years later that what I was experiencing at the time was sexual coercion: “Even if your partner isn’t forcing you to do sexual acts against your will, being made to feel obligated is coercion in itself.”
After graduation, he and his family moved 45 minutes away, and I was driving there one day when I texted him an equation: “1 + 1 = 69.” The truth is, I didn’t want to do that either. But I was trying to want to. I was trying to like it, because I felt that I should enjoy it, should want to do those things, because I loved him.
I was idealistic in my naïveté. I wanted it to work, and I thought that maybe it was up to me to make it work, because he was my first love. Wouldn’t it be romantic for my first love to also be my last? And maybe, somehow, this was even what love was: him, holding my hand and guiding me to the inside of the sidewalk because I was a lady, and “it’s the thing to do.” Him, spoiling me on my birthdays. Me, letting him copy my AP Environmental Science homework because he didn’t do his, again. Me, picking him up for school and waiting around during my off period just to drive him home after. Me, sobbing on my bedroom floor because he just tried to break up with me again and I wasn’t fighting it this time by begging him not to. Me, shrinking against the passenger door of the car in the parking lot minutes before walking into prom because I made him angry (again) and he was screaming at me. Me, opening my mouth, shoving his hand away from my head with angry tears pricking my eyes, after having told him “no” many times.
That wasn’t love.
He was dropping me off at my house after picking up Sonic, the one time I tried to talk to him about how uncomfortable I felt with how sexual our relationship had become. That’s basically all I was able to say before he shut down; he wouldn’t look at me as he said, “Well, I’m sorry if I brought you into this thing that you don’t want” and it was very clear that he didn’t care to talk about it. I got out of the car, and he drove away. Then I went inside and immediately put my food in the fridge because, suddenly, I didn’t have an appetite anymore.
If my parents were home at that time that day, they must’ve been in another part of the house where they couldn’t see me walk in, because I put my food in the fridge without even trying to hide that I was upset while I always tried to hide it from my parents. In my house, the door to the garage was located in a recessed part of the kitchen, and the kitchen and living room were connected, so I could see around the corner whether the living room light was on whenever I walked through that door, but my parents couldn’t immediately see me. Each time I’d had a less than happy evening at my boyfriend’s, I would come home and step inside that door, and I could just sense myself automatically shift, compartmentalize it and put up a façade. I assumed they always bought it, because they never indicated otherwise.
When they did catch me in somewhat compromising positions, they confronted me, and I felt guilty, so guilty and ashamed of my behavior. Still, when I could, I lied. I guess I was trying to protect myself, when the truth was, they only wanted to do the same thing. I thought I was keeping everything secret from my friends, too, though I learned years later that I didn’t hide it as well as I thought I did. Maybe I wanted somebody to notice. Maybe I wanted somebody to help me, even though, when it came down to it, the only person who could truly save me was me.
I used to credit my fiancé with saving me, and it is true that he showed me an entirely different kind of relationship. Without him, I might be in a very different place today. I might not have made the decision to break up with my boyfriend — a decision that nobody but me could have made for myself. A decision that I was initially unsure of but still stood by, and that turned out to be the right one.
A year or two later, I ran into my ex in town one day. He thanked me for having had the balls to break up with him, because, he made it sound like, his current girlfriend kind of waffled about things like that.
As far as I know, they’re still together. I knew they would get together when I broke up with him, and I told him, “Don’t treat her like you treated me.” I don’t know whether or not he does, and I don’t particularly care. Maybe I should have shared my story with her, from one woman to another, because we’re supposed to have each other’s backs as women. But I hadn’t really processed any of it at that point, anyway, and of course, she saw me as the enemy because I hurt him by breaking his heart. I’m sorry I hurt him. But I’m not sorry that I did it to preserve myself.
So I didn’t share my story with her, didn’t entirely share details with anyone until now. That’s all I want today: to share my story, especially in light of the “Me Too” movement, because one of several lessons I’ve learned from this is that I’m not alone. And neither are you.